science funding

MPs call for swift action to protect UK science after Brexit

The UK cannot “take for granted” that it will retain its status as a science superpower after Brexit and must “act swiftly” to ensure the domestic sector does not suffer once it leaves the union, a group of MPs have said.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said that coming to an early agreement on knowledge sharing and collaborative projects was an “urgent priority” in Brexit talks.

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to agreeing a science and innovation ‘pact’, but we are concerned that if there were to be a protracted delay in agreeing this, it would have unfortunate effects,” it said in a report.

“Given the significance of science and innovation to the UK economy, reaching an agreement on this should now be as important to the government as addressing the question of security.

“It must be stripped out from the wider trade negotiations for focused attention, rather than become a knock-on consequence of other negotiations or be traded against other aspects of a post-Brexit deal.”

A detailed science and innovation agreement with the EU should be in place by October at the latest, the committee said.

But last month the Minister for Science said that while participation in European research was important, it must not “come at any price”. 

The report warned that the government should act now to make clear future immigration rules for scientists and clarify the status of EU students applying to UK universities for the 2019 academic year.

The committee voiced “concern” that the government does not appear to be planning to participate in the next round of the EU’s flagship research funding programme, and urged it to state clearly that it will seek associate status.

Despite repeated assurances from ministers, including Theresa May, that they regard future co-operation with the EU on science and innovation as important, the report said that more “clarity” was urgently needed to avoid “unfortunate” results.

“With just one year remaining until Brexit, and a commonly-accepted aim of reaching a comprehensive Brexit deal by this autumn, the time for setting out broad aspirations has passed,” said the cross-party committee.

The committee’s chairman, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, said: “The UK’s science and innovation sector is in a strong position as the UK enters the Brexit negotiations. The UK is home to four of the world’s top 10 universities and the Government has committed to raising funding by £4.7bn by 2021.

“But we can’t take it for granted that we will retain this world-leading position. A concerning lack of clarity remains over access to funding, association with regulatory bodies, and immigration policies.

“Co-operation on science and innovation is a ‘win-win’ for the UK and the EU. An early deal would provide assurances to researchers, students and academics, and could set a positive tone for future negotiations.

“It is crucial that the government acts swiftly. If it fails to do so both sides could suffer considerably as a result.”

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